People Are Like Toilet Paper

I’ve been staying at a friend’s house for the past couple of days in an effort to get out of the house while on break and exploring Minneapolis, Minnesota, a city I’ve been to many times but have never really gone out and explored. In my time in Minneapolis I’ve attended a concert put on by the Minnesota Orchestra, gotten lost in the city numerous times, and tonight will be at the Mall of America, enjoying myself at a Patrice O’Neal show at the House of Comedy.

But despite everything that’s happened while I was in Minneapolis, the one thing that I just realized–that I hope everyone will realize soon–is that people are just like rolls of toilet paper.

Let me explain: while I was using the facilities in the house I’m staying in, I noticed that the toilet paper roll was empty. Being a kind guest I found a new roll, and replaced it. But before I put the roll back on, I paused, and the great debate played through my head: is this household a “roll-over” household, or a “roll-under” household?

It honestly stopped me for a moment. I didn’t want to put it the wrong way, or else I would be inconveniencing people in the house, as they reach for the toilet paper and go, “Dang it, it’s rolled the wrong way.” I had a short panicky moment, before I decided to look at the empty roll and see which way they preferred it. But looking at the roll, I noticed that it was completely empty, and that there was no way I would be able to tell how they preferred it.

It was then, oddly enough, that I had a moment of clarity that I felt compelled to tell the world: we are just like that roll of toilet paper. Our different ways of rolling are our different beliefs and convictions: Christians “roll-under” and Muslims “roll-over”; Republicans “roll-over” and Democrats “roll-under”. The appearance is different, and just like in those toilet paper commercials, sometimes it can get pretty crazy. Some people are just so into their preference of over versus under that it can unwittingly cause shouting matches. Many websites are devoted to solving the Great Debate, and no one will ever get it solved.

(To paraphrase the opening of chapter 10 of Blue Like Jazz (by Donald Miller): “Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who like toilet paper to roll over and they put it in like that, and some other guys who like toilet paper to roll under and they put it in like that, and the argument stopped being about toilet paper a long time ago, and honestly I don’t care.”)

Looking at that empty toilet paper roll, though, helped me to realize that it doesn’t matter how we hang, because in the end we’re going to be an empty tube, and no one is going to care whether we were an “over tube” or an “under tube” but rather that we got the job we needed to do, done. It no longer matters how we roll, but that we rolled.

The charge to the world is to get beyond matters of rolling one way or the other. We’re all on this planet together, and the sooner we can get past petty problems like race, religion, political identification, or sexual orientation, the better we can make the world.

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